Montana’s 2012/2013 wolverine trapping season essentially ended before it started, after Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks decided not to contest a temporary restraining order issued by Lewis and Clark District Court Judge Jeffrey Sherlock.
But Ron Aasheim, FWP spokesman, said the state agency still plans to fight the lawsuit.
“We just decided we would put our efforts into the larger case — the actual lawsuit,” Aasheim said. “We have maintained, and will continue to maintain, that there should be a wolverine trapping season.”
The judge had issued the temporary restraining order Nov. 30, 2012, which was the day before the wolverine trapping season was set to open. It was scheduled to close either Feb. 15 or when the five-wolverine quota was met.
A hearing on the temporary restraining order was set for Thursday, but both FWP and the parties that filed the lawsuit made a joint motion to vacate this week’s court date.
The Western Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight conservation groups last October, including Helena Hunters and Anglers and the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies, who are seeking to end the trapping of wolverines.
They noted that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that wolverines are “warranted for listing” under the Endangered Species Act but declined to do so recently due to higher priorities. That could change once the federal agency reviews the situation later this month.
“This is great news that this year’s wolverine trapping season is over,” said Keith Hammer with the Swan View Coalition, another group involved in the lawsuit. “Hopefully, wolverine will soon gain the threatened species protections they need so desperately, including a permanent ban on the intentional killing of wolverines.”
Under Monday’s joint motion, the parties will notify Sherlock on or before March 1 as to how they feel the lawsuit should proceed. They have until April 5 to try to resolve any disagreements or file new motions.
Each side can file a motion for summary judgment by April 19, with final arguments being presented by July 21.
Once prolific across the west, the USFWS estimates that between 250 to 300 wolverines inhabit the northern Rocky Mountains. FWP officials believe the wolverine population is stable or expanding, but the environmental groups fear that global climate change is imperiling their habitat and will prompt the population to drop.
The groups note that population estimates for wolverine in Montana range from approximately 100 to 175 individuals. Wolverines require deep, late-spring snowpack for denning and raising their young, and also need cold temperatures year-round to thrive.
The groups fear that global climate change, as well as fragmented habitat, are causing populations to become isolated and reproduction rates to drop, causing a substantial number of the remaining wolverines in Montana to be either unsuccessful breeders or nonbreeding sub-adults. They say studies have shown that Montana’s “effective population” of wolverines is less than 35.
Montana is the only state in the contiguous U.S. that still allows trapping wolverines.
FWP officials have said they allow wolverine trapping based on “sound wildlife management science” and that their management is conservative, sustainable and reasonable.
Along with the Helena-based groups, other organizations that sued to halt the trapping season include Friends of the Wild Swan, the Montana Ecosystem Defense Council, the Native Ecosystems Council, George Wuerthner, Wildearth Guardians and Footloose Montana.
Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said he hopes the decision to not oppose the restraining order signals a change brought about by the new Bullock administration and the reappointment of Jeff Hagener as the FWP director.
“I’m no mind-reader, but maybe they decided to listen to their lawyers and their constituency,” Garrity said. “I think Bullock is getting off on the right foot.”
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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